Ottawa sacrifices Ontario industry
TheStar.com – comment/editorial – Ottawa sacrifices Ontario industry
June 06, 2008
The painful loss of 2,600 high-paid jobs at General Motors in Oshawa and 430 jobs at Ford in Windsor can’t be dismissed with a shrug as “a couple of one-time events,” as Prime Minister Stephen Harper put it in the Commons on Wednesday. Canada’s manufacturing sector is being devastated on the Conservatives’ watch.
No fewer than 180,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost during Harper’s 28 months in power. That’s an alarming trend, not a hiccup.
The reasons for those devastating job losses, particularly in Ontario, are manifold and well-known: Canada’s high oil-driven dollar; fierce competition in manufactured goods from low-wage Asian countries, notably China and India; the decision by the Big Three North American automakers to ignore the imperative to shift to small, fuel-efficient cars; and the failure of manufacturers to aggressively exploit new technologies to move up the ladder into high-end products.
The only way to shield the manufacturing sector against the confluence of those powerful forces is for Ottawa to develop a bold strategy that both pushes and pulls manufacturers in new directions, making innovation and high productivity the focus.
But the record of the Harper government reveals a hands-off approach and a readiness to sacrifice a vital Ontario industry and settle for resource-based growth in the West and growth in the service sector. Nothing highlights the ideological underpinnings of that approach as clearly as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s remarks to reporters following Tuesday’s announcement by General Motors on the closure of its Oshawa pickup truck plant. Talking as if skills were made of putty, Flaherty said auto workers facing layoffs by GM could always get jobs that pay just as well in the financial services sector.
That fatuous advice came from a finance minister who was busy telling investors that Ontario was the last place they should invest in at a time when GM was announcing the layoffs in Oshawa that preceded the plant closure bomb it dropped this week.
Having thus stuck his political neck on the chopping block â€“ the devastated Oshawa riding borders his own â€“ Flaherty yesterday finally tried to preserve some of the 2,600 GM jobs now slated to go by inviting the company to tap into a $250 million federal fund.
We hope it’s not too little too late. But it’s all Flaherty has to offer after frittering away $12 billion on GST cuts that do as much to spur consumer purchases of Chinese products as Canadian-made goods.